Helping your child to sleep whilst travelling

Helping your child to sleep whilst travelling

It can be a parent’s worst nightmare that their child is screaming uncontrollably in public, or worse – on a plane. Well, there are some things you can do both to prepare.

Be persistent and unembarrassed about helping your child sleep

Toddler sleeping on a plane in his sleep sack

When I was a new mum, I was so embarrassed about my baby screaming in public. It used to really stress me out and I worried about going on planes or trains with my baby. However, I love travel and eventually I just had to resign myself to dealing with it.

I’ve managed to get my 2 year old to sleep on lots of train seats and plane seats. I put him in his sleep suit and then sing to him and strok his back.

Does he fight back? Oh yes. Does he cry? Sometimes. You thought you heard all the excuses at home. He’ll come up with new ones when you’re out and about. However, after a while of stalling and distraction techniques he does often fall asleep. When I say ‘a while’ I don’t mean hours and hours. Sure, it feels like ages, but it really won’t take as long as you think. Don’t check the time. Do what you need to to help your child sleep. It’ll happen sooner than you think.

You can then bask in the peace of a sleeping child. And the compliments of the impressed people who didn’t think you’d manage it.

Take sleep aids with you

Picture of a sleep sack, two monkey toys, a bear sleep toy, a muslin blanket and a child's drinking cup
Sleep aids

If you’re on a plane or a long train ride then try and take sleep aids. We take Jack’s sleep sack everywhere with us. It’s been instrumental in helping him sleep whilst travelling. Read more about routines and sleep aids here.

Take a wrap or carrier with you

Image of a baby sleeping in a fabric wrap on it's mother. The baby's face is just visible between the layers of blue fabric.

Wraps and carriers can be great ways to get young children to sleep on planes. Wraps are especially good because they cocoon your child, which mimics being in the womb.

At home, I spent the first month of my baby’s life dancing about at 3am with him in a wrap. It was sometimes the only way to get him to sleep. Now, when I’m out and about I always take it with me. I know that if he’s fussy I can always calm him by putting him in the wrap.

Know how much sleep your child needs

Babies and children get very tired if they don’t get enough sleep. With Jack, we had this endless cycle where he’d seem fine and then very quickly turn into a screaming frantic mess. We tried everything we could think of to get him to sleep – rocking, jiggling, patting, dancing…Eventually we realised that he was overtired – we’d been trying to get him to sleep too late.

We looked up how much sleep a baby needed and it seemed like an insane amount. Could our child really need to go back to sleep only an hour and a half after he’d woken up? The answer was, yes.

Once we started helping Jack sleep much earlier (while he was still calm) he was much, much easier to get to sleep. He slept more during the day and night. It became far easier for him to fall asleep.

If you don’t already know how much sleep your child needs (naps included). The babysleepsite.com has some great advice and sample routines. Here’s an example of one for a 3 month old.

Get a good travel stroller

When you’re out and about naps can be tough. I’d recommend getting a good, reclinable travel stroller that they can sleep in. They may not have as long a nap as they would do at home, but it’ll certainly be better than nothing. If you need a new travel or city stroller I’d highly recommend the Babyzen Yoyo.

Practice remaining calm when your child’s upset

Children sense stress. If you can stay calm this will help them calm down and sleep more easily.

Travel can be a lot more intense than home. You don’t always have the same support structure to fall back on. This is why it’s important to practice remaining calm any time you can. If you can do it at home, you’re much more likely to manage it while out and about. Click here for tips on remaining calm with a cranky child.

If you find yourself getting stressed while you’re out, consider this: Keeping yourself calm is much nicer for the people around you even if your child is upset. If you feel your child is disturbing people it’s temping to get stressed. However, this makes things much worse for the people around you. Now they have to deal with a noisy child and a cranky parent. If you stay calm they’ll be impressed with you and more sympathetic to your child.

Other articles on travelling with children

Maintaining routines when travelling with children

Long haul flight with toddler and baby

Tips for travelling with small children

What toys should you bring on planes and trains?

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